The Christmas and holiday season can be such a joyous time for so many families. It can also be a scary time or a confusing time for a child who has been newly adopted. It makes sense to want to be sensitive to the needs of your child during this time, but it is also important to remember to keep normalcy for your family and new child. Traditions can help to make your child feel included in the practices you have already established while creating new traditions as you move forward as a family.
Both Christmas and holiday traditions can typically vary from family to family. No two families will have the same traditions or celebrate the same way. Holiday and Christmas traditions typically will not change too much with the addition of a child who has been adopted. However, you may want to take into account the traditions and culture that your child had before she came to live in your home. This may change traditions a bit as you want to make her feel included and comfortable.
Otherwise, it is important that your new child learn the traditions that your family has kept and to help her feel included in these traditions that will be new to her. After all, these traditions will become her family traditions as she has now joined your family. Pass these traditions down just as you would a biological child and celebrate the holiday season together as you always have while keeping in mind the respect and comfort level of your child.
For my family, our Christmas traditions start the day after Thanksgiving. Each year, we set up all of our Christmas decorations and have a “Christmas Day” the Friday after Thanksgiving. On this day, we go buy our Christmas tree and get ready to decorate it that night. We listen to Christmas music and bake Christmas cookies. We spend some time looking through catalogs to see what the kids want for Christmas and also what we will by others. We watch Christmas movies and just try to get into the holiday mood.
Throughout the holiday season, we typically will spend lots of time watching Christmas movies. We try to watch all of the Christmas movies that we can and listen to all of the Christmas music too. Christmas music just seems to put people in a good mood! We are also a religious family, so we spend time talking about the birth of Jesus and learning about it more with our church. We spend time thinking of ways to give back to others during the holiday season as well.
A few weeks before Christmas, we load all of the kids into the car and go check out Christmas lights. Locally, we are able to check out lights within our neighborhood but are also able to go to a very large lights display put on by one of our local theme parks. We drive through and watch lights that are set to Christmas music while the kids drink hot cocoa and eat Christmas cookies. This is fun for all of our kids and adults too! There’s just so much beauty and magic when seeing Christmas lights in the warmth of your own vehicle.
On Christmas Eve, we typically spend time together as a family baking and spending time together. We will often go to a Christmas Eve service at our church and meet up with extended family. After dinner, we may watch a few more Christmas movies and just spend some time eating goodies. Once we have sent all the kids to bed, my husband and I begin the task of wrapping presents and getting ready for the night. His tradition since being a kid was to watch the movie “A Christmas Story.” I personally am not the biggest fan of the movie, but it has become a tradition. Isn’t that weird how traditions happen? You just keep doing them even if it’s not something that you prefer.
When the kids are sent to bed, they typically all sleep in the same room and in the same bed. I don’t know how long this will last as they grow, but the excitement is palpable. They also are all given new Christmas pajamas. I love this tradition just because the excitement of getting something new, even if it’s just pajamas, on Christmas Eve is always something they look forward to. Surprisingly, they go to sleep pretty well on Christmas Eve just knowing that they will wake in the morning to presents and excitement.
My husband and I typically stay up way too late wrapping presents and watching movies. Even as adults, we are excited for Christmas. Once we have everything under the tree and turn the Christmas tree lights on, we sit for a bit in front of our fake TV fire and admire the silence and beauty of the tree. It’s a great moment to have to just sit and contemplate the past year and everything that we are so thankful for.
In the morning, we wake the kids with cinnamon rolls and hot cocoa in new mugs. We have Christmas music going and all sit down to open stockings. Once everyone has checked out their stockings, we open presents in order from youngest to oldest. We open one present at a time and take lots of pictures. After we are done opening presents, the kids spend time playing with their gifts while my husband and I take some time to rest. We have a slow morning at home before having a big brunch of turkey and all the sides.
One of my great friends has a wonderful tradition that they take part in each year to show their children the real meaning of Christmas in their minds. On Christmas morning, before opening any presents or eating any food, they go to a local apartment building and hand out gifts to children who might not have any otherwise. They then spend time serving breakfast to the families and spend time eating and hanging out with them before going home. This is a great reminder before opening up presents of how fortunate they are and how good it feels to bless others. This helps them humble their kids before the commercial spirit of the holiday season overtakes them.
Adoption or foster care does not really change the traditions that we celebrate during the holiday and Christmas season. Perhaps one of your children celebrates a holiday that is different than what you celebrate; of course, it is okay to respect that and allow them to opt-out of certain things if you are comfortable. You may also choose to find out what traditions your child might have had before coming to your home and see what you might feel comfortable celebrating and upholding once he has joined your family. I asked a few of my friends who are also adoptive parents what their family traditions are during the holiday season and here are their replies:
“Our family has a few little traditions for Christmas. On Christmas Eve night, we open a present that has pajamas, a book, and a game. We then play games and watch The Nativity Story movie or The Star cartoon. Christmas morning, I make cinnamon rolls, and we open stockings. Then we read the Christmas story before we open presents. One of their stocking gifts is an ornament. They have one for every year have been with us. When they grow up and leave home, my goal is for them to have 16 to 18 ornaments to take with them.” -Virginia
“My family traditions are that we see a movie at the theaters on Christmas day: lounge around in our comfy clothes at home, open presents, watch Christmas movies, play games, eat snacks throughout the day instead of a big meal, and enjoy each other’s company!” -Emily
“It is really important to me that we celebrate the Christmas season for as long as possible. I know some people are weird about celebrating Christmas too early, but Christmas brings so much joy to our family. I like to start decorating as soon as Thanksgiving is over and spend the holiday season with all things Christmas. Christmas just brings so much joy to me, and it is more about the feeling and less about the gifts. It is the one time of year that our family really comes together and spends a large amount of time together. We typically get more days off work during this time and more time together as a family that is booked solid. I just love this time that we have, and it just is a reminder of how fortunate we are to have the family that we have and how fortunate we have been to add children to our family through adoption. It’s just a great time to reflect on all that we have and all of the things that we can be thankful for throughout the rest of the year.” -Mike
Another friend had the great idea of spending time with her children learning about Christmas around the world. Her children are researching different countries and different cultures to find out how they celebrate Christmas or what holidays they might celebrate during this time. This is a great way to start a tradition with your child who may have been adopted internationally. You can take some time with your child to research the holidays and traditions that his home culture would have during the holiday season. You could even incorporate some of these traditions if you are comfortable. Regardless, learning about the traditions and the culture might help him feel more connected to his culture and also help him learn more about the country from which he came.
If you have adopted an older child or if you are in an open adoption, you might want to take up the opportunity to participate in some traditions with your child’s birth family. They may have some traditions that they have done throughout the past that you can continue with your new child. If you live close, you may be able to have a holiday visit tradition or have a Christmas dinner with your child’s birth family. Much of this will depend on your degree of openness and the safety of the child, but this can be a great tradition to start in honor of your child and his continuing relationship with his birth family.
Ask your child’s birth family if there is anything that you should carry on or might want to participate in for the future. This may be especially true if your child has a culture or a holiday that differs from yours. You can still uphold your own traditions while respecting the traditions of your child’s birth family and exploring those traditions with your child. It may mean a lot to your child to carry on traditions that she has known prior to coming into your home.
Your Christmas or holiday traditions with your adopted child can be really whatever your family has typically done unless there are certain circumstances for which you need to account such as other cultural or religious beliefs that your child has carried with him. Take some time to discuss traditions with your children and make sure that they feel comfortable. See if there’s anything that you can incorporate that they have done in the past if you have adopted an older child. Otherwise, spend time with your family to come up with new traditions with your new child and involve him or her in the traditions you have always done. Much of doing traditions right will be just including your child and not changing everything due to his or her addition. Make her feel just as you would any other person in the family. Traditions can be a great time to bond with your child and make him feel more included and comfortable. Merry Christmas and happy holidays!
Lita Jordan is a master of all things “home.” A work-from-home, stay-at-home, homeschooling mother of five, she has a BA in Youth Ministry from Spring Arbor University. She is married to the “other Michael Jordan” and lives on coffee and its unrealistic promises of productivity. Lita enjoys playing guitar and long trips to Target. Follow her on Facebook.